He sat in a private office adjacent to a nearly emptied locker room, surrounded by his past, present and future. Two hours after he had hoisted the Lombardi Trophy amid red, white, blue and silver confetti swirling above him at Cowboys Stadium on Sunday night, Green Bay Packers coach Mike McCarthy reflected on a life’s journey that took him from humble beginnings in Steeltown to an enduring immortality in Titletown.
Soaking up the aftermath of the Pack’s 31-25 victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers in Super Bowl XLV, McCarthy looked at his parents, Joe and Ellen, his wife, Jessica, and his daughter, Alex, and shook his head back and forth like a man humbled by the magnitude of his accomplishment.
“It’s a numbing sensation,” McCarthy said. “It feels great to share it with family, and to share it with the players. You’re so focused on the game, and it’s fourth-and-5 and the ball hits the turf, and it’s total chaos – they’re pulling you here and pushing you there and you can’t get any air.
“It’s definitely personal that it was against Pittsburgh, because that’s where I’m from. I was very blessed to grow up in a great football town, and now I’m fortunate enough to coach in the mecca of football. I’m married to a Green Bay native. It’s our home. And now, to be a permanent part of the tradition? Oh, man, it’s unreal.”
If the reality of his team’s unlikely achievement hadn’t yet sunk in – winning a championship as a No. 6 seed after overcoming an unrelenting run of key injuries from start to finish – McCarthy couldn’t completely dodge the stamp Sunday’s game would leave upon his legacy. Chances are he will have a street named after him in the quaint Wisconsin city he plans to call home forever. That’s what happens to coaches who bring Super Bowl championships back to Green Bay, whether they’re living legends like Vince Lombardi, franchise revivers like Mike Holmgren or, as seems inevitable given Sunday’s outcome, deceptively brash catalysts like Michael John McCarthy.
You want bold? In a move that would have made Rex Ryan proud, McCarthy dismissed his players from their final team meeting on the night before the game and had them fitted for Super Bowl rings. As their fingers were measured in a hallway at the Dallas-area hotel where they’d spent the week, the Packers couldn’t help but feel their coach’s swagger.
“It gave us a subtle confidence,” said middle linebacker Desmond Bishop(notes), whose fumble recovery on the first play of the fourth quarter was one of the game’s pivotal moments. “It let us know that we’re right there on the cusp of going down in history, and it made us want it so badly.”
McCarthy might have been crucified for his motivational ploy had the Steelers won the game, but the fifth-year coach wasn’t sweating it. “See, I don’t really think about those things,” he insisted. “I just care about what’s best for the team, and I really believed what I’d told them: That Super Bowl XLV was our time, that given the path we’d taken to get here we could handle anything Pittsburgh would throw at us. They’re a great, championship football team. But this is our time.”
For the Packers, Super Sunday was the culmination of a three-year process that began after the team’s painful 2007 NFC championship game overtime defeat to the New York Giants at frigid Lambeau Field. That triggered the chain of events that led to the messy departure of quarterback Brett Favre(notes) as McCarthy and general manager Ted Thompson put their faith and career fortunes in the right arm of Aaron Rodgers(notes), the young backup who’d spent three tense years waiting to succeed a beloved Titletown icon.
Had that gamble failed, McCarthy likely would have been forced to relocate by now. Instead, Rodgers burgeoned into a star and led the Packers on a three-game postseason tear through the NFC – and, on Sunday, past a Steelers team that boasted the NFL’s top defense in 2010.